May 15, 2003
It's All In The Editing

There is a big gaping hole in my life -- and my Thursday night TV schedule -- now that "Survivor: Amazon" is over.

This is something you get to hear me complain about two or three times a year: the inevitable post-'Survivor' crash-and-burn phase. For a few days after they hand over that million-dollar check to one lucky winner, I wander around the television universe feeling bereft and aimless ... wondering how I'm going to *survive* for the next little while without my weekly fix of manufactured drama and ersatz reality. It's silly, I know. I'm embarrassed to admit that I feel this way.  I'm a mature, grounded, reasonably well-educated woman, forcryingoutloud. My days of worshipping television shows should have ended when Barnabus and Angelique went off the air. And it's impossible to explain the appeal to anyone who isn't as enamored of quasi-reality programming as *I* am. (My mother ... my children ... my boss ... 97.3% of the *FootNotes* audience, if my mailbox tomorrow morning is any indication.)

But it's how I feel.

The critics lauded "Survivor: Amazon" as the best of the 'Survivor' franchise so far. I agree. Right from the very first episode -- when they herded all of the female contestants into one boat, and all of the male contestants into another, and sent them off into the jungle to duke it out with each other -- David and I found ourselves emotionally engaged to a degree we hadn't enjoyed since "Survivor: Australia." 'Amazon' had something for both of us: drama, romance and Jeff Probst's dimples (for *me*), full frontal nudity and flaming explosions (for *him*). Plus the human dynamic seemed especially interesting and effective this time around. We had somebody to admire (Christy, the Plucky Deaf Girl) ... somebody to loathe (Heidi & Her Invincible Breasts of Scorn) ... somebody to pity (Jenna, whose lovely dark eyes puddled with tears whenever someone mentioned her Sick Mom and/or her incinerated sorority jacket) ... even somebody to feel smugly superior over (anybody who drank too much and sang Lionel Richie on national TV). Plus -- thanks to the most skillful editing this side of "Michael Jackson's Private Home Movies" -- I found myself actually rooting for The Bad Guy this time. Ordinarily I fasten my hopes and my 'Survivor' Office Pool money on the contestant oozing the most integrity and likeability and all-around-good-personedness. But the character of Rob was so deftly drawn -- he was edited with such duality of purpose: amusing/astute/articulate narrator on the one hand, lying/manipulative/backstabbing subhuman on the other hand -- that you couldn't help but like the guy.

Even while you were hating him.

And that's what 'Survivor' is all about, anyway: the editing. It's not the scenery, or the money, or the absurdly complicated Reward Challenges involving mud and puzzles and wriggling insects the size of small cruise missiles. It's not even Jeff Probst and his dimples, zooming across New York Harbor on a jet ski. It's all of these disparate elements, expertly and seamlessly woven together.  And even more importantly, it's the characters, and the finely nuanced way that they're edited. Unlike my other favorite 'reality' show, "The Bachelor" -- which basically reduces the contestants to black and white: you're either a Slut or you're a Nice Girl, just like high school -- 'Survivor' allows us to see shades of gray (and pink, and brown, and beige) that other reality shows don't even come close to developing. For that, you've got to give credit to the 'Survivor' editors. Just think how daunting a task that must be, sifting through all of the mundane, unremarkable details of daily life -- eating and sleeping and farting and blinking and fighting and laughing and long aimless conversations that go absolutely nowhere -- and trying to distill all of that human minutiae down into one focused, compelling, ongoing narrative that people will enjoy and remember and come back to, day after day. I can't even imagine how tough that must be.

Then again: maybe I can.

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